Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

"Anti-Establishment" French marchers call for “Jews out of France”

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On the eve International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 26, protesters marched in Paris chanting: "Jews, France is not yours!" "Jews out of France" and "The story of the gas chambers is bull***!" At one point, the crowd shouts "Jew, Jew, Jew!" You can watch it for yourself on YouTube.  

The march was part of a "Day of Anger" called by anti-government activists in protest of a variety of "anti-establishment" causes. According to reports round 17,000 people attended the march, and police said that 250 had been arrested and 19 police officers were injured.

Many of the protesters can be seen giving the "quenelle", an inverted Nazi salute invented and popularised by the comedian/ political activist Dieudonne M'bala M'bala who has been convicted several times for inciting antisemitism and is reportedly under investigation for alleged money-laundering and fraudulent organisation of his own bankruptcy.

While some of Dieudonne's supporters argue the quenelle gesture is "anti-establishment", it has been adopted with growing popularity by the far-right to Muslim extremists.  The latest trend is people posting pictures online making the salute in front of Jewish sites including Holocaust memorials, synagogues, and even the school in Toulouse where Mohammed Merah murdered a rabbi and three Jewish children. Recently a Belgian lawmaker named Laurent Louis said Zionists were responsible for the Holocaust and performed the quenelle in parliament, a move that was condemned by the President of Belgium's Parliament, Andre Flahaut.

The quenelle received global media attention after it was performed by the French West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka.  Dieudonne had planned to visit Anelka in Britain to show his support, however the UK Home Office announced on Monday that Dieudonne, who is now facing an eighth trial for inciting hatred against Jews, was an "excluded" individual who would not be allowed into Britain.

The quenelle in France has become a "cultural meme and political identifier for Dieudonné's politics and the movement it has spawned", as Dave Rich writes in Dissent Magazine:

"In place of the massed ranks of saluters or marchers that were the political theatre of totalitarianism, we have the viral online spread of quenelle selfies. This may be the first individualist mass movement of the social media age, in which there are no membership cards or party dues, no meetings in pubs or rallies in town centers; nothing more than a user-generated quenelle image is necessary to join, at a time and place and in a style of your choosing."

John Lichfield from the Independent explains the origin of the ‘quenelle':

"Why is this obscene? Quenelle means an elongated meat-ball or fish-ball. In slang, it means a finger or a penis. Dieudonné's gesture means, symbolically, that you want to shove a ‘quenelle' as far as possible up the backside of your enemy."

The march raises serious concerns about the popularisation of antisemitism in France by Dieudonne. In an article titled "Is France becoming anti-Semitic?" on i24 News, Israel's former ambassador to France Elie Barnavi writes:

"Has France become anti-Semitic? Certainly not. A country is anti-Semitic when its political class, its elites and its press are infected with the gangrene of anti-Semitism and when the hatred of the Jews is a political and cultural force. This is obviously not the case in France. The Catholic fundamentalists, fascists and Islamists who formed the bulk of the crowd on the 'Day of Rage,' and whose 'demands' stir the pot in such a way that only the most clever can see the ingredients, is not even close to taking power. However, it is clear that in such a deleterious social climate, inhibitions were cast aside and Judeophobic sentiment was unleashed. Thus old miasmas, which were thought to be buried forever, rose again to the surface from the depths of the national unconscious. The most disturbing aspect of this trend is the weakening immune system of those who should be the most sensitive to it..."

Dieudonne is not merely a comedian making nasty jokes. He is politically active and finding popular support in France amongst a mix of migrants, the working class, and elements from both extreme right and left.  Dieudonne has uniquely fused radical political ideologies with classical antisemitism, as Dave Rich explains:

"The manner in which Dieudonné maneuvered a Parisian audience into expressing its anti-establishment sentiments by cheering Robert Faurisson [a known holocaust denier] (has he ever had such an ovation, even from an exclusively far-right audience?) and laughing at Jacky's "suit of light," [a concentration camp uniform with a yellow star] all on the premise of sticking it to ‘them,' shows the ease with which raw, old-fashioned anti-Semitism can be inserted into contemporary radical politics. ‘Making common cause' between Holocaust deniers, neo-fascists, the pro-Palestinian left, and the revolutionary Islamists of Iran is precisely what Dieudonné has spent the past decade trying to achieve.

Originally from the political left, he has moved via anti-Israel rhetoric and the fascist Front National (FN) to the establishment of his own Parti Anti Sioniste (PAS, or Anti-Zionist Party). Alongside him in the PAS is essayist and filmmaker Alain Soral, who underwent a similar journey from the Marxist left to the FN before finding a political home with Dieudonné.

There are not many political movements that can embrace the neo-fascist right, the anti-capitalist left, and Iranian revolutionary Islamism. Dieudonné is close to FN leaders - Jean Marie Le Pen is godfather to one of his children - while also attracting fans who consider themselves to be left-wing radicals. He was a guest in Teheran of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and received Iranian funding for a film project. Historically, movements that successfully pulled off this kind of balancing act have tended to rely on anti-Semitism as their glue, expressed through the lingua franca of conspiracist anti-Zionism, and PAS is no different..."

Rich also discusses how Dieudonne's views are not part of the wave of ‘new antisemitism' directed at Israel but are very much in the mold of classical antisemitism:

"Dieudonné's ethnicity (he is of French-Cameroonian parentage) and origins on the left have lulled some observers into viewing him as an example of a ‘new anti-Semitism,' originating in the left and in minority communities, and directed at Israel. This is a category error: Dieudonné's anti-Semitism is very much of the old variety, blaming Jewish speculators and globalists for the erosion of Europe's moral core and the sapping of the nation's strength. However, whereas pre-war anti-Semites portrayed this Jewish influence as a hidden hand, pulling the strings of the elite, nowadays Jews are accused of being the very establishment themselves. Symbolized in France by Bernard-Henri Lévy, they are the new insiders - white, wealthy, and influential, accused of using their status to prevent others from achieving their rightful place in society. Thus, neo-fascist anti-Semitism that sees the ‘Big Jew' as the cause of all misfortune merges with the resentments of marginalized minorities, hoovering up the varied grievances of the disenfranchised into one amorphous movement. PAS's program weaves classical anti-Semitism, reworked as conspiracist anti-Zionism, with a call for social justice and a lament for France's lost power and purpose, thereby skillfully combining the populist anti-politics of left and right. It's petty nationalism married to Occupy's 99 percent."

Dieudonne is now banned from making antisemitic comments in his shows in France but he has continued to do so albeit in less direct fashion, as John Lichfield notes in the Independent:

"Dieudonné is a compelling presence on stage: bearded, balding, black, very large and sometimes funny.  ‘What the fuck are all you lot doing here?' he asks. ‘The media and the politicians and the thinkers have ordered you not to come. You must all be crazy anti-semites, assassins and wicked sorcerers. I almost didn't turn up myself.'

The performance is in the Bordeaux ice-rink - appropriate for a man who has been skating on thin moral and political ice for almost a decade. The audience of at least 5,000, which fills the venue to capacity, is predominately male. It is mostly white and working class...

Then he reaches a banned part of the old script, Dieudonné pauses and grins or he stares suspiciously, and comically, into a ‘spy camera' that ‘They' have hidden in his lectern.

The fans know by heart from YouTube what Dieudonné is supposed to - or not supposed to - say next. Thus, he no longer says: ‘Why should I have to choose between Jews and Nazis? In all that business, I am neutral.' Instead, he stops and allows an innocent, yet conspiratorial expression to spread across his face. Cue, hysterical cheers and laughter.

Alternatively, Dieudonné gives a censored version of one of his anti-semitic ‘jokes'. In the original show, Dieudonné would attack his frequent critic Patrick Cohen, the Jewish presenter of France's most successful morning radio news show (a cross-Channel equivalent of John Humphrys).  Dieudonné used to say: ‘When the wind turns, I don't think he'll have time to pack a suitcase. When I hear Patrick Cohen talking, you see, I think of the gas chambers. Pity.'

In the revised show, Dieudonné casually mentions Patrick Cohen. (Hysterical booing from the audience). Then he says: ‘The wind is going to turn, maybe. We will see. I have a feeling that the wind is turning.' (Hysterical laughter.) Dieudonné's Bordeaux fans, who have paid €43 each, resemble a pick-and-mix of the people that you might see at provincial, far-right or far-left rallies in France.
Random interviews suggest that they are a rather different set of people: just as angry; just as alienated; but apolitical. They are so furious with ‘the system' that they are beyond the reach of even populist politicians. They are not beyond the reach of Dieudonné. Their refuge, for now at any rate, is in his destructive, dark humour, rather than in organised politics....
I count 23 references to Jews in a supposedly 'cleaned up' 80-minute show.  There is nothing remotely funny in any of these references. Even with his gaps and pauses, Dieudonné's world view is as follows: the Jews run the world; they are responsible for the suffering of blacks and poor whites. Why? Because they have created a global monopoly of pity by manipulating the Holocaust....

In the 'Dieudonnosphere' (as his fans call themselves) the 'establishment' and the 'Jews' have become the same thing. People who start off vaguely anti-system are encouraged to become viciously anti-Jewish.

Looking around the people crowded into the Bordeaux ice-rink, it is difficult to believe that they were sincerely anti-semitic. Most have probably never met a Jew. And yet, in January 2014, to hear 5,000 people baying angrily at each mention of a Jew is deeply unsettling."

The recent protest suggests that Dieudonne's influence may no longer be confined to performance halls.  This is a chilling development especially for France's Jewish community, which is the third largest in the world, but is rapidly shrinking as French Jewry continue to emigrate to Israel at a comparatively high rate. A recent poll by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency recorded that 40% of French Jews fear publicly identifying as Jews, and that 75% of European Jews feel that anti-Semitism is on the rise. With Dieudonne's shows gaining notoriety and his supporters marching through Paris chanting classic antisemitic slogans it's easy to understand why.

Sharyn Mittelman

 

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